22 Feb 2017

Port Hills fire: more residents allowed home

6:27 am on 22 February 2017

Residents in the worst-hit area of the Port Hills are being allowed back to their homes this morning.

A house on Worsleys Rd, Christchurch surrounded by singed vegetation. Photo taken February 19 2017

A house on Worsleys Rd, pictured on Sunday. Photo: RNZ / Emile Donovan

The huge blaze across more than 2000ha on the hills above Christchurch was contained last week but crews are still working to make sure hot spots don't flare up. A state of emergency is still in place.

People who live on Worsleys Road will be allowed past cordons at 9am.

Among them will be Jo Kinley, who left Worsleys Road as the fire spread across the hills around them last Wednesday.

As flames reached the edges of the properties they and neighbours watched from nearby the silhouettes of their homes.

Worsleys Road resident Jo Kinley.

Jo Kinley's home and garden were spared the fire Photo: RNZ / Conan Young

"It just looked unbelievable, it was just horrifying so yes we went home thinking we had no home."

Fortunately, their home and garden have been spared, and since then her family have stayed with her parents and at a friend's place.

She and her husband have been able to return for only an hour - a chance to empty rotting fridge and freezer contents and grab a few more belongings.

"You know I don't think people really understand exactly how that feels.

"To be able to stand on your own backyard, to know that it's still there and that the garden that we've planted for the last 10 years is actually still there; bit of ash everywhere and terrible smell of smoke but still there."

"Our houses on our wee bit on the spur are like a green oasis in a sea of black. It's just a truly unbelievable scene."

Being able to return today brings a chance to start getting back on with things.

"People are just overjoyed and just want to be home now.

"We may have to evacuate at any moment so I don't imagine any of us will be taking our art home or our photo albums, Plunket books, those sorts of things.

"But it does mean we can air the houses out, we can get insurance assessors up to the house to decide whether we need any remediation done on smoke damage and we're just all home together.

"Almost is just as important as being able to see our houses is knowing that the neighbours that for the last six years we've depended on so greatly are living back next door to us and we can just rush next door if we need anything. It's just our community back."

While there had been frustration and criticism of communication from the services fighting the fire, that was for another time, she said. Residents were incredibly grateful for the work emergency services had done to save all they homes they could.

"Hopefully there'll be a time when we'll be able to thank them personally."

She is already looking ahead with the hope the council will act quickly to replace the charred remains that she once walked through everyday.

"So something good really can come out of this if we now in maybe 10 or 20 years look up at the Port Hills and just see it awash with native bush so that the tui and bellbirds come back from Banks Peninsula.

"Obviously there will be a lot of people wanting to help plant neighbours properties but, you know, I'm hoping the whole of Christchurch will want to be up there planting trees on the Port Hills.

Vikki Pflaum and her husband are staying with their eldest son after their property, further up the road, was reduced to ash and rubble.

Doug and Vikki Pflaum scan the fire from the flat to see whether or not the flames have reached their house in the Port Hills.

Doug and Vikki Pflaum scan the fire from the flat to see whether or not the flames have reached their house in the Port Hills. Photo: RNZ / Joelle Dally

They had looked across from another hilltop at the ruins but it was not until they were escorted to the site at the weekend that the reality sank in, Ms Pflaum said.

She is looking forward to checking in with neighbours and being able to come and go.

"It'll give us the freedom to be able to go up to look around with out feeling like you're bothering those guys that have been working so hard to keep everything contained.

"Just to have the freedom to look around a bit more and just even start thinking ideas in our mind, what we're going to do and how we're going to do it - what we're going to do, what's next.

Two other cordons - on Kennedys Bush Road and Hoon Hay Valley Road - were lifted yesterday, allowing access to more than 100 properties.

There are still a small number of properties on Dyers Pass and Summit Road cordoned off because of fire risk and other safety concerns.

A house on Worsleys Road that was completely destroyed by the flames.

A house on Worsleys Road destroyed by the flames. Photo: RNZ / Sharon Brettkelly

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